DART Green Line coming to Oak Lawn

24-mile extension of DART train route will include 4 stops in, around Oak Lawn, making travel easier for YFT and food pantry clients

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

ALL ABOARD | DART’s Green Line already includes a stop in Deep Ellum, pictured, and Victory Plaza. Beginning Monday, the train will also make stops near Youth First Texas’ location, the Resource Center Dallas Food Pantry and Parkland Hospital. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

On Dec. 6, DART opens a 24-mile extension of the Green Line with four stations in and around Oak Lawn.

The four new Oak Lawn-area stations are Market Center Station, Southwestern Medical District/Parkland Station, Inwood/Love Field Station and Burbank Station.

Market Center Station is the first stop north of Victory Station. The American Airlines Arena was the northern terminus of the original four miles of the Green Line that opened in 2009 in time to connect riders from the Red and Blue Lines to the State Fair.

Located on Harry Hines Boulevard, Market Center Station should have greatest impact on the youngest members of LGBT community.Located across the street from Youth First Texas, the rail link will make services to the center available to hundreds more young people.

Youth First Texas Director of Development and Administration Sam Wilkes said the organization chose their new location partially because of the proximity to DART.

“Being at a DART hub, we’re excited to see how many will access Youth First Texas now that the line has come to fruition,” Wilkes said.

Bus service has been available, but waiting for a train at a well-lit station at night is safer and the service easier to access, he said.

Parkland Station, the second new Oak Lawn area stop, is located between Maple Avenue and Harry Hines Boulevard near Hudnall Street. Once the new Parkland Hospital is built, the stop will be at the facility’s entrance.

For now, DART will be a short one-block walk away from the main hospital, AIDS clinic Amelia Court, Zale-Lipshy and Children’s Hospital. St. Paul Hospital and the rest of UT Southwestern are a longer walk and connected by shuttle bus service.

Inwood Station on Inwood Road at Denton Drive Cutoff is across the street from the Resource Center Dallas Nutrition Center/Food Pantry. The Dallas Eagle is a block south and Cathedral of Hope is two blocks north. Resource Center Dallas’ proposed new building is also a block from this stop.

“It will make it quicker and easier for clients who access the pantry, especially those who travel great distances,” said Resource Center Dallas spokesman Rafael McDonnell.

The pantry is bracing for new clients who will now be able to access the agency’s services more easily. But McDonnell wasn’t worried about shortages of food due to additional clients.

“We’ll let folks know and we hope they’ll step up as usual,” McDonnell said.

Cathedral of Hope spokesman Coy James said, “We have lots of people who commute from all over the place. We have people who currently use the bus to get to services.”

He said that a number of church staff members were looking at ways to use the train to commute to work.

“We’re looking forward to it,” he said.

To travel by DART to Love Field, bus 39 will connect Inwood Station with the airport terminal. That bus line will operate daily.

Large parking areas will open for commuters from Oak Lawn at Market Center, Inwood and Parkland Stations. Parking in DART lots is free.

The final new Oak Lawn area station is Burbank Station at the north end of Love Field adjacent to Southwest Airlines corporate headquarters. Southwest employees can get to work and Love Field West neighborhood commuters may take advantage of this stop, although no parking is available.

North of Love Field is Bachman Station, located just south of Northwest Highway at Denton Drive. Two more stations in Dallas are located at Walnut Hill Road and Royal Lane along Denton Drive before the Green Line heads into Farmers Branch and Carrollton.

Rafael McDonnell

Next summer, Green Line commuters will be able to travel all the way to Denton when the A Train opens. That line will connect Downtown Denton to Trinity Mills Station with four other stops along the 21-mile route.

From the southern end of the Green Line at Fair Park, four new stations in Pleasant Grove and South Dallas extend the line to the southeast corner of Loop 12.

Also opening Monday is the first phase of the Orange Line. Eventually, that route will connect the system with DFW Airport. Originally the Orange Line will duplicate service from other lines on a limited schedule.

The Orange Line will follow the Red Line route from Plano through Downtown Dallas. Rather than continue to Oak Cliff, the Orange Line will head north along the Green Line route from West End Station to Bachman Station.

When the Orange Line is completed, it will head west from Bachman Lake through Irving and Las Colinas to the airport. The first Irving phase should open in 2012.

Also opening on Monday is the new Lake Highlands Station on Walnut Hill Road at White Rock Trail. This infill stop is between the White Rock Station and LBJ/Skillman Station on the Blue Line. That station will provide an extra stop for White Rock Lake skateboarders, joggers or bike riders taking their bicycles on the train to the trail.

The Blue Line that now terminates in Garland will continue to Rowlett by 2012.

Also planned but without construction dates are a second Downtown alignment. During rush hours, three lines heading through Downtown on one set of tracks gets congested. Now the Orange Line and the expanded service on the Green Line will add extra rail traffic.

The Blue Line will expand south from Ledbetter Station to the new UNT Dallas campus in South Dallas. No date for that expansion is set.

The opening of 15 stations along 24 miles of new track is the largest single-day expansion of a light rail system in the country since 1990. The $1.8 billion Green Line opens on time and within budget.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 3, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

GLFD marking 10th anniversary of giving

Organization that channels LGBT donations to mainstream charities returns to Latino Cultural Center to celebrate milestone year

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor nash@dallasvoice.com

Keith Nix and Dick Peeples
PHILANTHROPY OF TIME AND MONEY | Gay and Lesbian Fund for Dallas President Keith Nix, left, and Board Co-Chair Dick Peeples say their organization earns visibility and respect for the LGBT community by turning charitable donations “pink.” (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

It was 10 years ago that a new group called the Gay and Lesbian Fund for Dallas donated enough money to the fund to build the city’s Latino Cultural City that the group earned naming rights to the center’s outdoor sculpture garden.

Next Wednesday, Nov. 10, 10 years and more than $1 million later, the GLFD returns to the Latino Cultural Center to celebrate its 10th anniversary.

Founded by partners Enrique McGregor and Mark Niermann, GLFD’s purpose is to collect charitable donations from the LGBT community and then give those donations en masse to specific projects and organizations — all to increase the impact and visibility of the LGBT community.

“We are all about visibility and bridge building,” said Dick Peeples, GLFD’s board chair, of the organization’s mission. “The LGBT community is part of the community as a whole. We want the whole body to be healthy, and we believe it will be healthier when all its parts are recognized and given respect.”

Peeples said GLFD has three requirements that an organization or project must meet to be eligible for GLFD funds: It must be a nonprofit in Dallas; it must publicly recognize GLFD as the donor of the funds, and it must have a hiring nondiscrimination policy that includes LGBT people.

It was that last requirement that almost derailed GLFD’s plans to donate to the Parkland Foundation to help fund the Ambulatory Care Clinic at Parkland hospital. And Peeples said he is proud that it was GLFD’s insistence that requirement be met before funding the project that provided impetus for getting the hiring policy at Parkland changed.

“A new policy that would include LGBT people had been sitting on [Parkland CEO Ron Anderson’s] desk for awhile, and they just hadn’t gotten around to putting it in place. Our donation was the impetus for them to go ahead and get it done,” he said.

GLFD President Keith Nix stressed that the fund is about “philanthropy of money and time,” adding that over the course of the past 10 years, “We have been very careful to touch all areas of the nonprofit community — medical, the high arts, art, women, children, education. We really have run the gamut of all areas of need.”

GLFD raises and donates money in different ways. Often the organization mounts a campaign for a specific project — like Parkland’s Ambulatory Care Clinic or the Dallas Women’s Museum or the Latino Cultural Center. And about every other year, the organization holds large-scale special events to raise money for a specific organization or project.

But the fund also has ongoing bundling programs for the Dallas Museum of Art and KERA 90.1 FM, the local public radio station.

Peeples explained that those who participate in the bundling programs would likely have contributed anyway to the museum or the public radio station, “but those dollars wouldn’t have been colored pink. The power of bundling is that the museum or the radio station still get the money, but now they know that money came from LGBT people. And that kind of visibility helps break down stereotypes.”

Nix described it as a win-win-win situation: The institution gets the donations it needs; the individual donor gets the benefit of donating, i.e. membership in the museum or KERA, at the level of their specific donation, and the LGBT community, through GLFD, gets positive visibility.

“Every few months, when the KERA pledge drives roll around, KERA is very upfront about announcing the donations we give and using the name Gay and Lesbian Fund for Dallas,” Nix said. “And every time we have a meeting with KERA, I ask them if they have gotten any negative comments about our donations. And they always say no. I think the fact that they have never gotten one negative comment speaks volumes about the progress we are making.”

Peeples said he believes that progress is due in part to Dallas’ reputation as a business-oriented city.

“This city is business-focused. People have a business-like attitude, and this [GLFD’s donation model] is very businesslike. We want acknowledgement and respect for what we do for the city, and this helps us get that,” Peeples said.

GLFD’s current campaign is to raise money to fund the Dean’s Reception Room in Southern Methodist University’s new Simmons School of Education and Human Development. David Chard, an openly gay man, is dean of the new school.

Partners Enrique McGregor and Mark Niermann
FOUNDING PARTNERS | Partners Enrique McGregor, right, and Mark Niermann founded Gay and Lesbian Fund for Dallas 10 years ago.

Although GLFD initially sent out letters to the nonprofits in Dallas that qualified for GLFD donations, Nix said the group no longer has to go out looking for places to give.

“We haven’t had to contact an organization in four or five years now,” Nix said. “Now, they contact us.”

Peeples acknowledged that the economic recession of the past two years has made itself felt, saying that “we’re soliciting people to give, and the economy has made giving more difficult for a lot of people.”

But, Nix said, GLFD has continued to be successful in its efforts.

“We haven’t really seen any decline in our bundled giving programs with the Dallas Museum of Art and KERA. When KERA had shortfalls, they called us. And we came up with some matching funds programs that wound up being incredibly successful.

“And when we held our event at the Wyly Theater, we filled the house,” Nix continued. “We may not have filled the glass as well as we might have before. But we did fill the glass.”

One difficulty the fund has had, both men said, has been in finding the LGBT community and identifying the segments of the community that would be likely to give to specific programs and projects.

“The Dean’s Reception Room at SMU is a good example,” Nix said. “We want to find LGBT people who graduated from SMU or have some real connection to the school because they are the ones more likely to give to that project. But there’s no LGBT alumni group at SMU.”

Peeples added, “It used to be that our community was concentrated in the Crossroads area in Oak Lawn. But now, we are scattered out all over the Metroplex. And there is no database of gay people we can use to find them.”

But the two men hope that GLFD’s new membership initiative might help solve that problem.

“We don’t have a real membership, per se,” Nix said. “But with our anniversary event at the Latino Cultural Center, we will be launching a membership organization within the fund. You don’t have to be a member to give or to participate in our events. But just like with the museum and KERA, you can join, and you get benefits for being a member.”

There will be, he added, different levels of membership offering different levels of benefits.

“Just like with KERA, no matter how much you give, you’re a member. But if you can give more, you get more benefits. Still, whatever level you give at, you benefit. Everyone benefits,” Nix said.

GLFD’s 10th anniversary party begins at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 10, at the Latino Cultural Center. State Rep. Rafael Anchia will be the keynote speaker, and the event will include the premier of a short video on the history — and the future — of GLFD.

Tickets are $50, and are available online at GLFD.org.

Organizations and projects that have benefited from donations by GLFD include AT&T Performing Arts Center, Dallas CASA, Dallas Latino Cultural Center, Dallas Public Library, Dallas Women’s Museum, KERA 90.1 Public Radio, Parkland Health and Hospital System, Twelve Hills Nature Center, Bark Park Central, Dallas Children’s Theater, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas Theater Center, Friends of the Katy Trail, Oak Lawn Triangle, The Stewpot, The Wilkinson Center and the Simmons School of Education and Human Development at SMU.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 5, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Victim knocked out, shot fired into air during robbery near Cedar Springs strip early Saturday

A man was knocked unconscious and a gunshot was fired into the air early Saturday during a violent robbery just a few blocks from the Cedar Springs strip, according to Dallas police reports.

The two victims were walking home at about 1:30 a.m. in an alley between Throckmorton and Knight streets when two Latino males came up behind them, pulled out guns and demanded money, the reports say.

One of the men ran out of the alley onto Knight Street between Hall and Rawlins streets, yelling for someone to call police. One of the gunmen briefly chased the man and fired a shot into the air as he ducked behind a car.

Meanwhile, after the second victim handed over some cash, the other suspect hit him in the face with his pistol and demanded his wallet. The victim fell to the ground and the suspect got on top of him and took his wallet. Then both suspects pistol-whipped the man in the head until he blacked out.

The victim regained consciousness and was able to walk out of the alley toward his home on Knight Street. He was taken to Parkland hospital with cuts and bruises on his head and face.

The suspects were still at large.

—  John Wright

Oak Lawn shooting victim released from hospital

Doug Tull
Doug Tull

Doug Tull, the gay bar patron who was shot during a robbery a few blocks from his apartment in Oak Lawn in late August, was released from Parkland Hospital on Wednesday, Sept. 15 after two surgeries.

“It’s nice to be home but there are a lot of medical things I have to do,” Tull said.

Tull thanked his friend Darwin Kopaska, who has been by his side since the shooting; and Ron Nelson and Frank Holland, owners of Pekers, for saving his life by their quick action.

“I have a home nurse that comes by Monday, Wednesday and Friday to take vitals and all that,” he said.

So far there are no suspects. Photos from a bank surveillance camera of the suspects’ vehicle driving through the parking lot were not clear enough to reveal the license plate number.

“I just hope the police catch those guys so they can’t hurt anybody. Anyway, I’m doing all right and thanks for asking,” Tull said.

And yes, we keep using the same photo of Tull, but we’ll get a new one once Tull is feeling up to it. He preferred this one of him smoking outside at Illusions taken last year to a current one of him looking like crap after surgery.

—  David Taffet

Oak Lawn shooting victim undergoes 2nd surgery

Doug Tull in serious condition but is expected to recover; police say video from nearby bank camera did not record shooting or license plate

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

Doug Tull
Doug Tull

Doug Tull remained hospitalized this week after being shot during an aggravated robbery in Oak Lawn on Aug. 30.
At about 1 a.m. that Monday, two men jumped from a car directly in front of Tull as he walked along Brown Street, and robbed and shot him at point blank range.

A third man drove the car into the drive-through lane of the American National Bank on Oak Lawn Avenue.

Tull made it to Pekers on Oak Lawn Avenue where co-owner Ron Nelson called for emergency help.

Tull was taken to Parkland Hospital where doctors repaired damage to his large and small intestines, liver and stomach. The bullet, however, remained in his body.

Doctors at first thought the bullet was lodged in Tull’s rectum and they had hoped that it would pass naturally. But on Tuesday, Sept. 7, Tull began running high fever, and doctors operated to remove the bullet.

Tull remains in serious condition.

Police hoped to identify the car used in the attack from surveillance tape taken by the bank. However, a police spokesperson said that while they believe they saw the car on the video, the license plate is unreadable and the camera did not record the shooting, which happened across the street.

Tull said the car is an older, gray, four-door Nissan Altima. He identified the men as African-American, weighing about 150 pounds each and all in their early 20s.

The parking garage manager at the Crescent returned a check with Tull’s address by mail that a cashier found in the lot. Tull confirmed that the check had been folded and in his wallet that was stolen.

When contacted by police, officials at the Crescent gave a copy of their surveillance tapes to police. But the cameras were not pointed in the direction of the car and a police spokesman said the tape was not immediately useful.

The police spokesman said they would retain the tape, which may prove useful for later corroboration.

Darwin Kopaska is a friend of Tull’s and has been with him daily since the shooting. He said that over the weekend, Tull began complaining of pain in his lower back that was more severe than that in his abdomen. The area where the bullet was lodged began to swell. He was taken into surgery at 4 a.m. on Tuesday.

Kopaska also said doctors were concerned about fluid building around his lungs and a urinary tract infection.

After the operation, doctors said the bullet looked like a 9 mm.

Kopaska said that Tull’s mother, brother and sister arrived late last week from out-of-town.

Kopaska said another friend he identified only as Loveta was helpful in contacting Tull’s employer and arranging for short-term disability for him. Tull has worked for Texas Instruments for about 25 years.

Tull was expected to remain in the hospital through this week but is expected to fully recover.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 10, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas

Shooting victim recovering

Doug Tull ran to Pekers after being shot in the chest and remains in fair condition at Parkland Hospital

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer  taffet@dallasvoice.com

Doug Tull
POINT BLANK | Oak Lawn resident Doug Tull, shown smoking outside Illusions in 2009 in this file photo, remains in fair condition at Parkland Hospital after being shot at point blank range early Monday morning. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

A 49-year-old Oak Lawn resident was shot during a robbery early Monday morning, Aug. 30, when he was walking alone in his neighborhood. Doug Tull is recovering at Parkland Hospital following surgery to repair damage from the gunshot wound to his upper abdomen.

Frank Holland, the owner of the bar Pekers, was in his bar when Tull entered at about 1 a.m.

“He walked in the door and said, ‘Help, I’ve been stabbed,’” Holland said.

He said his business partner Ron Nelson ran behind the bar and called 9-1-1.

Nelson said he thought Tull was kidding until he saw the blood.

“Before he [Nelson] hung up, there were two police cars here,” Holland said. But ambulance response was much slower. Holland caught the entire incident on camera and said it took 6½ minutes for the emergency vehicle to arrive.

A witness who asked not to be identified saw the shooting from his apartment.

“I was sitting out on my porch,” he said. “Doug crossed Shelby and Brown walking toward Oak Lawn.”

He heard the confrontation but was too far to help stop it.

He said he heard Tull yell, “I don’t have any money” and then a shot and called police.

So when Tull arrived at Pekers, the police were already on their way to the area.

Tull said that he was walking toward Oak Lawn Avenue and a car pulled up from behind him. He said it stopped about five feet in front of him. Two young men got out of the car.

“I kept walking. They were pointing at something as if looking at a building,” he said. “I kept walking.”

He said when he realized something was wrong, he tried to run, but the assailants were too close and jumped him.

When they demanded money, Tull said he didn’t have any on him. They knocked him to the ground. One of the attackers went through his pockets, took his wallet and then shot him.

Tull thought he had been stabbed.

“I didn’t hear a gunshot,” he said. “I didn’t see a flash.”

Before they fled, Tull said he managed to pull a canister of mace from his pocket and spray one of the assailants.

Tull said the two attackers ran to the car waiting in the bank parking lot across the street, yelling, “Mace! Mace! Mace!”

Holland said he told the police that what he saw was a round puncture wound in Tull’s abdomen. He said the shooting must have been at point-blank range.

There was confusion at first about where the incident took place. The original police report said the shooting occurred at Shelby and Brown streets.

Tull later told police that he was attacked in front of the barbershop across Brown Street from the American National Bank parking lot.

Police were checking with the bank to see if their cameras recorded the incident and caught the license plate of the car. After the two attackers got out of the car, the driver pulled into the bank’s drive-through lane.

Tull identified the suspects as three black men in their early to mid-20s, driving an older four-door, gray Nissan Altima. They were dressed in white T-shirts and jeans and weighed about 150 pounds each.

After the attackers fled, Tull ran to Pekers less than a block away.

Tull was taken from the bar to Parkland Hospital where he was in intensive care for a day. Although the bullet entered his body directly under his heart, the only damage was to his stomach, liver and large and small intestines.

While operating, doctors were unable to find a bullet. Later x-rays found it lodged in his rectum. They said it may pass out of his body.

“Doctors can’t believe how fast I’m recovering,” Tull said from his hospital bed on Wednesday, Sept. 1.

The gunman was aiming down, he explained. The bullet shot at point blank range apparently ricocheted off of Tull’s sternum, which is why it did not exit his body. Although the incision made to repair his internal organs is more than six inches long, Tull was out of bed and walking by Wednesday. His right arm is bruised, he said, because the assailants were bouncing on his arm. He has a cut across his forehead but no other facial injuries.

Frank Holland
Frank Holland

On Wednesday, his friend Darwin Kopaska checked Tull’s mail. The parking garage manager at the Crescent sent Tull a check that one of his cashiers found in the parking lot. Tull confirmed that the check had been folded in his wallet.

Dallas Voice passed that information to police who are checking video at the Crescent parking garage to see if their cameras caught the assailants’ car.

Police detectives and LGBT police liaison Laura Martin are looking into the attack.

Tull said that no anti-gay epithets were shouted during the incident but police are not ruling out the possibility it was a hate crime.

While several other attacks have taken place near the Oak Lawn entertainment district recently, this is the first street shooting in awhile.

In May four men with baseball bats assaulted two men on Throckmorton Street near Congress Avenue. In 2008, Jimmy Lee Dean was beaten in a brutal attack just a block off the main Cedar Springs strip.

On April 16, 2007, Jose Landa was shot to death in a parking lot on Cedar Springs Road after stopping to get cash at the ATM on the street.

Police have warned people not to walk alone citing safety in numbers. However, when Jimmy Lee Dean was attacked, he was walking with Michael Robinson. The attack in May involved a couple walking together, and Jose Landa was with his wife and several friends.

Along with the incident report, police issued a neighborhood warning after the Tull attack. After the May baseball bat attack, police were criticized for not alerting the community sooner.

Apartment complexes in the area have not been as vigilant in passing along the warning. The witness said that management in his complex has remained silent on the attack.

In a separate incident, a jogger found a man unconscious on the jogging trail along Turtle Creek Boulevard early Friday morning, Aug. 27.

At about 7:15 a.m. police were called to assist the injured Oak Lawn man. It was not apparent at the time what happened to Shawn Stumph, nor do police know how long he had been there.

He was found laying unconscious on the trail near Bowen Street. A section of the guardrail along a now-closed section of road is missing above where Stumph was found. The drop to the creek bed below is about 30 feet.

Police are not sure if Stumph fell or was pushed in an attack, but said his wallet was in his pocket when he was found and there was no sign of a struggle. Stumph was rushed to Parkland Hospital and remains in critical condition in intensive care. He has extensive head injuries and is not able to answer police questions.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 3, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Shooting victim upgraded to fair condition

The victim of a robbery and shooting Monday morning in Oak Lawn is now listed in fair condition at Parkland hospital, spokeswoman Charise Thomason told Instant Tea on Tuesday morning.

Doug Tull, 49, remains in the intensive care unit of the hospital, Thomason said.

Tull underwent surgery after being shot in the stomach during a robbery at about 1 a.m. Monday near Shelby and Brown streets. According to Dallas police reports, Tull was walking toward the gay bar Pekers on Oak Lawn Avenue. Tull’s home address is in the 2600 block of Throckmorton Street.

Above is a Dallas Voice file photo of Tull that was taken in May 2009 outside Illusions on Maple Avenue.

—  John Wright

April 1 is Census Day

Census Bureau

Tomorrow is Census Day. Remember to return your census forms. If you are in a relationship, mark either married or unmarried partner to be counted as a same-sex couple.

To celebrate Census Day, here’s a history of the census figures in Dallas with a Dallas timeline to put the population numbers into some perspective.

Population of the city of Dallas

1841 Dallas founded by John Neely Bryan. (His log cabin is downtown). Population: 1

1849: Dallas Snag (later renamed Dallas Herald) begins publishing

1850 Population 163

1850: Town of Dallas selected county seat of Dallas County

1856: Dallas incorporated as a city

1860 Population 678

1867: First church built in Dallas (by Disciples of Christ)

1870 Population about 3,000

This number comes from several sources but I cannot find why an actual census was not taken in Dallas in 1870.

1872: Sanger Brothers opened first store

1880 Population 10,385

1885: Dallas Morning News begins publishing

1890 Population 38,067

Only time Dallas ranked as the most populous city in Texas

1892: Old Red completed

1894: Parkland Hospital opens on Maple Ave at Oak Lawn.

—  David Taffet

Health care reform statistics

Parkland Hospital
Parkland Hospital

As the health care reform bill comes to a vote – maybe – how is Dallas doing as far as health care coverage?

Not good at all. And as more people lose their health insurance, the more they rely on the overloaded Parkland emergency room for primary health care.

Here are some statistics supplied by by the National Journal.

Of the 435 congressional districts in the United States, the one with the most uninsured people represented by a Republican?

Pete Sessions’ Dallas district — 32.6% of people in the district are uninsured. Sessions has led the opposition to health care reform in the House of Representatives.

The Republican district with the fifth most number of uninsured people in the country is Kay Granger’s in Fort Worth — 23.7% of the people in her district have no health insurance.

Three of the six districts with the most uninsured people are in Texas. Two are in South Texas. One is here in Dallas – Eddie Bernice Johnson’s district has 39.9% uninsured.

But even if you have health insurance, will your insurance company pay the claims. Here’s a story from this week’s Dallas Voice that may make you worry about your own coverage.

—  David Taffet

Partner denied sick leave by AT&T

Bryan Dickenson, left, and Bill Sugg hold hands in Sugg’s room at a rehabilitation facility in Richardson on Wednesday, Jan. 27. (Source:John Wright/Dallas Voice)

Despite 100% rating from HRC, company won’t allow gay man time off to care for ailing spouse

JOHN WRIGHT  |  News Editor
wright@dallasvoice.com

Bryan Dickenson and Bill Sugg have been together for 30 years.

For the last 12 of those years, Dickenson has worked as a communications technician for Dallas-based AT&T.

After Sugg suffered a debilitating stroke in September, Dickinson requested time off under the federal Family Medical Leave Act to care for his partner.

But AT&T is refusing to grant Dickenson the 12 weeks of leave that would be afforded to a heterosexual spouse under the act.

As a result, Dickenson is using vacation time so he can spend one afternoon a week at Sugg’s bedside at a rehabilitation facility in Richardson. But Dickenson fears that when his vacation runs out, he’ll end up being fired for requesting additional time off to care for Sugg. Dickenson’s attorney, Rob Wiley of Dallas, said he initially thought AT&T’s refusal to grant his client leave under FMLA was just a mistake on the part of the company. Wiley said he expected AT&T to quickly rectify the situation after he sent the company a friendly letter.

After all, AT&T maintains the highest score of 100 percent on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, which ranks companies according to their treatment of LGBT employees. And just this week, HRC listed AT&T as one of its “Best Places to Work.”

But AT&T has stood its ground, confirming in a statement to Dallas Voice this week that the company isn’t granting Dickenson leave under FMLA because neither federal nor state law recognizes Sugg as his domestic partner.

“I really couldn’t be more disappointed with AT&T’s response,” Wiley said. “When you scratch the surface, they clearly don’t value diversity. I just think it’s an outright lie for AT&T to claim they’re a good place for gays and lesbians to work.”

Wiley added that he’s disappointed in HRC for giving AT&T its highest score. Eric Bloem, deputy director of HRC’s workplace project, said Thursday, Jan. 28 that he was looking into the matter. Bloem said a survey for the Corporate Equality Index asks companies whether they grant FMLA leave to same-sex couples, and AT&T replied affirmatively.

“I’m not exactly sure what’s going on, so I don’t really want to make an official comment on it,” Bloem said.

Walt Sharp, a spokesman for AT&T, said the company has “a long history of inclusiveness in the workplace.”

“There are circumstances under which our administration of our benefits plans must conform with state law, and this is one of those circumstances,” Sharp said in a written statement. “In this case, neither federal nor state law recognizes Mr. Dickenson’s domestic partner with legal status as a qualifying family member for a federal benefit program. There is no basis for this lawsuit or the allegations contained in it and we will seek its dismissal.”

Sharp didn’t respond to a request for further comment.

Wiley said Sharp’s statement doesn’t make sense. No law prohibits the company from granting Dickenson an unpaid leave of absence, which is what he’s requesting. Wiley also noted that no lawsuit has been filed, because there isn’t grounds for one.

The federal FMLA applies only to heterosexual married couples, Wiley said. Some states have enacted their own versions of the FMLA, requiring companies to grant leave to gay and lesbian couples, but Texas isn’t one of them.

Wiley said the couple’s only hope is to somehow convince the company to do the right thing, which is why he contacted the media.

“At some point in time this just becomes really hateful that they wouldn’t have any compassion,” Wiley said of the company. “I think the recourse is to tell their story and let people know how AT&T really treats their employees.”

Through thick and thin

This isn’t the first time Dickenson and Sugg have endured a medical crisis.

Sugg, who’s 69 and suffers from congenital heart problems, nearly died from cardiac arrest shortly after the couple met in 1980.

At the time, Dickenson was a full-time student and didn’t have car. So he rode his bicycle from Garland to Parkland Hospital in Dallas every day to visit Sugg in the intensive care unit.

In an interview this week at the rehab facility, Sugg’s eyes welled up with tears as he recalled what a Parkland nurse said at the time – “If that isn’t love, then I don’t know what the hell love is.”

“And sure enough, it was,” Sugg said over the whirr of his oxygen machine, turning to Dickenson. “As long as I have you, I can get through anything.”

Dickenson said in addition to visiting Sugg each Wednesday afternoon, he wakes up at 7:30 on Saturday and Sunday mornings so he can spend the day with Sugg at the rehab facility.

This past Christmas, Dickenson spent the night on the floor of Sugg’s room.
“That would have been our first Christmas separated, and I just couldn’t bear that, him being alone on Christmas,” Dickenson said.

The worst part of the whole ordeal was when he had to return to work after taking 13 days off following Sugg’s stroke, Dickenson said. Sugg didn’t understand and thought his partner had abandoned him for good.

“He called me over and over every night, begging me to please come see him,” Dickenson said. “And I said, ’Honey, you don’t understand, I had to go back to work to save my job.’

“That’s what really hurts about what they’ve put me through, not my pain and anguish, but his,” Dickenson said.

Dickenson said it was 3 a.m. on Sept. 22 when he rushed Sugg to the hospital. Doctors initially said it was “the worst sinus infection they’d ever seen,” but within 48 hours Sugg had suffered a stroke affecting his cerebellum.

Sugg lost the ability to swallow and his sense of balance. He’s still unable to walk and suffers from double vision.

Because he wasn’t out as gay at work, Dickenson initially told supervisors that his father was sick.

When he returned to work after 13 days at the hospital, Dickenson explained that his domestic partner was ill and he needed more time off. His supervisor managed to get him an additional 30 days of unpaid leave.

In the meantime, Dickenson phoned the company’s human resources department and asked whether he’d be eligible for leave under FMLA, which allows 12 weeks (or about 90 days) per year. Dickenson said he was told that since he lives in Texas, he wouldn’t be eligible.

Dickenson filled out the FMLA forms anyway and sent them to the company, but he never got any response.

When Dickenson returned to work, he asked to be reclassified as part-time employee, so he could spend more time with Sugg. His supervisor refused and told him his best bet was FMLA leave, even though he’d already been denied.

That’s when Dickenson contacted Wiley.

Sugg is scheduled return to the couple’s Garland home from rehab in about a week, but he’s still on a feeding tube and will require nursing care. With any luck, he’ll someday be able to walk again.

Sugg bragged that he was able to drink his first cup of coffee last week, and he’s looking forward to getting back to his hobby of raising African violets.

Dickenson said he knows of at least seven medical appointments he’ll have to arrange for Sugg once he returns home. He said his vacation time likely will run out by April, and he fears that if he loses his job, the medical expenses will eventually cause him to go broke.

But Dickenson, who’s 51, said he’s committed to taking care of Sugg, even if it means living on the street someday.

“When it runs out, I’ll be fired, and it really hurts to be in a situation like that, because I’ve worked very hard for AT&T,” Dickenson said. “We suffer now, but maybe other people in our shoes in the future, if they work for AT&T, they won’t suffer like we do.”

—  John Wright